Easy tiger

Psychologist Jesse Bering has written one of the most remarkable popular science articles I have read in a very long time that discusses, believe it or not, zoophilia or the sexual attraction to animals. The piece for Scientific American is surprising, unnerving, hilarious, frightening and thought-provoking, all in equal measure.

The article considers to what extent sexual attraction to animals is a perversion, opportunistic sex act or a genuine sexual orientation and gives a comprehensive review of the (admittedly few) scientific studies in the area.

But the stereotypical portrait of the zoophile as a woman-deprived, down-on-the-farm, and poorly educated male is presently being challenged by some contemporary findings. The most fascinating of these, in my opinion, is a set of two case studies published by University of Montreal psychologist Christopher Earls and his colleague Martin Lalumière, of the University of Lethbridge. The first case study appeared in 2002 in the journal Sexual Abuse and documented the story of a low-IQ’ed, antisocial, fifty-four-year-old convict who had a strong sexual interest in horses. In fact, this was why he was in prison for the fourth time on related offenses; in the latest incident, he had cruelly killed a mare out of jealousy because he thought she’d been giving eyes to a certain stallion. (You thought you had issues.)

The man’s self-reported sexual interest in mares was actually verified by a controlled, phallometric study. When hooked up to a penile plethysmograph [a hard-on measuring device] and shown nude photos of all varieties and ages of humans, the man was decidedly flaccid. Nothing happening down there either when he looked at slides of cats, dogs, sheep, chickens, or cows. But he certainly wasn’t impotent, as the researchers clearly observed when the subject was shown images of horses.

Blimey.

The documentary Animal Passions is a serious attempt to understand the motivations of people who are sexually attracted to animals. Many of the people claim, apparently sincerely, to want to be in fulfilling romantic relationships with other species. Needless to say, it is similarly eye-opening. Although unnerving at times, it is not gratuitious and, in fact, is available on YouTube.

Bering discusses what science and philosophy makes of these unusual attractions and does a fantastic job of covering a difficult topic.

Link to Bering’s article on zoophilia at Scientific American.

2 Comments

  1. Romeo Vitelli
    Posted March 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Would it be very wrong of me to suggest that this is someone who needs to learn that neigh means neigh?
    Thought so.

  2. rita
    Posted March 27, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I read the Bering article and found it pretty poor on the whole: a jokey tone in inappropriate places:”he had cruelly killed a mare out of jealousy because he thought she‚Äôd been giving eyes to a certain stallion. (You thought you had issues.)”, for instance. He missed the point that sexual abuse of other species, although it may not always do the harm (I doubt if a mare notices a chap pushing in, so to speak – though I note the man making love to his mare did it in her stall, where, presumably, she couldn’t move off if she wished) done in intra-species rape nevertheless can only take place (at least when performed by the human male) without the animal’s freedom to leave the situation. Bering wishes to examine cases of persons declaring sexual attraction to other species, not abuse, but I don’t see how the outworkings of this can be anything else. His article would have read more seriously without the nudge, nudge, down on the farm bits. Humans deceive themselves enough about the nature of their emotions without this.
    Anthrozoös had a special issue about zoöphilia a couple of years ago, if anyone is interested. It has to be said that very few of the widespread practices described had anything to do with attraction towards the animals and everything to do with sadism.


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